Outside magazine, not Backpacker. And they didn't make him write it. And they didn't make him have enough interest to write a book.
And...your theory about the Devil's Thumb chapter is just wrong. It was not added as filler. It's taken (mostly) from an essay Krakauer had written prior to knowing anything about McCandless, but it's absolutely essential to the fabric of _ITW_.
You referred to Krakauer being a famous adventure author. The thing is, he wasn't known to anyone except a few magazine industry people (and fervent readers of Outside) until the whole ITW thing blew up.
You've said a few times that McCandless was mentally ill. What are you referring to? Do you mean a specific diagnosis or just like, "that guy was crazy"?
I've got to know, sitting here with bated breath -- or is it baited breath? -- what was Krakauer drinking?
When I walked in it was Miller Light--I called him on it and he was totally embarrassed. A question of manliness, you know. Later we had a couple shots of Jim Beam Black Label with Guinness as a chaser, and everything was made better.
Well everyone's account of Krakauer has now got me interested in reading the book. Mockturtle's critical review was excellent, and azcanyon's narrative in particular has raised by interest up several notches further. I don't care too much how much of an outdoorsman he is, or what he drinks, though that is all useful background material. But the fact that he may be more than just a little twisted, well, that's good enough for me. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
He was smart, outgoing, charismatic, but he held things in like his anger against his father's polygamy history. He was rebellious, but many college aged kids are. He didn't like taking recommendations from anybody and was very hard-headed. I don't see "for sure" traits of depression, mania, pychosis or personality d/o...but what can we really tell from a book.
They are subtle, but they are there in the book. He wasn't really old enough for his behavior to be 'diagnosed', but if you've lived with someone (or multiple people) who has gone off on an unexpected "adventure," and they survived it and were later diagnosed with a significant mental illness (like schizophrenia or bipolar, for e.g.), there are just certain signs you start to see that cross the line from being eccentric (or "outside the box") to potentially caused by an undiagnosed mental health issue. People can live with undiagnosed schizophrenia for a long time (my brother in law was in his 30's when he finally reached his breaking point)... although my BIL was always "different," there was absolutely no indication whatsoever that he had anything diagnosable - at least not until he was diagnosed and we started looking backward at all the subtle clues. Since my BIL's "adventure," there have been other members of his extended family (cousins) who have had similar breaks with reality... one disappeared completely for 3 years, but has now made contact with his family (though he hasn't come home yet). I can't remember the source for this, but remember hearing more than once that many of America's homeless are people who are battling mental health issues, and being homeless has nothing to do with being lazy or not wanting to work, but simply being unable to conform to society's expectations. There is nothing wrong with that - everyone is entitled to live the life they choose to live. My only point is that "Into the Wild" is not about a wilderness adventure at all, it is about someone who chose to walk away from society and who just happened to be drawn to a large wilderness area instead of a large urban area. I don't recall getting any feeling whatsoever that Chris intended to return to society at any point in his life.
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.
My only point is that "Into the Wild" is not about a wilderness adventure at all, it is about someone who chose to walk away from society and who just happened to be drawn to a large wilderness area instead of a large urban area.
But that's kinda by definition going to be a wilderness adventure.
But what, really, is so wrong about walking away from society now and then? Remember, Chris did return to a society of his liking from time to time. I'm unconvinced that just because someone follows their dream with the passion of youth that we should call them crazy.
"The thing is, he wasn't known to anyone except a few magazine industry people (and fervent readers of Outside) until the whole ITW thing blew up."
Pardon me if my dates are off on this, but I first knew about Krakauer from Into Thin Air, which was (I believe) published a couple of years before Into the Wild. If it weren't for the TV broadcast of Into Thin Air, I think many people would never have noticed Into the Wild. I noticed it because I knew of Krakauer from his Everest summit, which would put him into the category of famous adventure author. When I first looke at it, I even thought it might be a sequal to Into Thin Air
As for the whole issue of mental illness, I work every day with emotionally diturbed youth. Some have severe anger management issues, depression, bipolar disorder (which if they were older would be diagnosed as schizophrenia more than likely), oppositional-defiant disorder, severe attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, higher functioning autism, etc. Many of McCandless's traits fit a pattern consistent with a number of my kids, the chief exception being that he was old enough to step out and make his own choices. But if he were interviewed and assessed by a licensed practitioner, it is reasonable he might be diagnosed with some of the more common emotional and psychological disabilities I routinely work with.
The idea of donating all worldly possessions could be a way of refuting the standards of his society. Or it could be the common act before one commits suicide. It is hard to tell.
If I were diagnosed, I'm sure a psychologist would have a field day with all my ideosyncracies. When I was 24 I was jumping out of moving planes, blowing stuff up, and playing with WAY too much live ammo. The only thing that kept me from getting myself blown up, or frozen to death, or dead of some communicable disease contracted from local women, or any number of other likely nasty endings was the fear of accidently taking some fellow Marines with me and the hand of Providence.
Was I mentally ill? From certain perspectives, yes, I probably was. Certainly I was depressed after a string of bad relationships. Certainly I was young enough to find incredible joy from just barely escaping something that SHOULD have killed me. Looking back, I would definitely say I was crazy. I guess it really depends on how you define mental illness. You could make the case with me. You could do the same for McCandless.
It was definitely weird how McCandless knew he wanted to go on his adventure yet he cried and would tell people he may never return from his trip. He knew he may die from an adventure that he didn't entirely prepare for and didn't want to hear even Alaskan local's warnings about equipment, IIRC. Supposedly, that kind of risk-taking is what Krakhauer (?sp) saw in himself.
But that's kinda by definition going to be a wilderness adventure.
That's not how I, personally, define a wilderness adventure.
There is nothing wrong with walking away from society now and then. What makes the difference between the need some people have for taking a break (or seeking extreme adventure) and someone who is not having a 'normal' response to society is that most people still have ties back in society that they look forward to getting back to when the adventure is over. Families, associates, friends, lovers... those are our ties to 'normal' humanity. Some of us can only handle a few connections at a time. Others can live full, robust social lives and still be ok when they take the occassional break from the norm. Most people just don't go breaking their ties to their social network when they take off on one of their adventures. Chris made connections along the way, but he broke those ties when he moved on. That is generally a mental health red flag.
Bearpaw... you aren't crazy dude. If anything your behavior was a reaction to your situation, but I suspect you never fully lost touch with reality. As long as you weren't doing the bidding of the voices in your head... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.
I am no psychologist but there must be some connection between poor father-son relationships and risk-taking behavior in young men? Need to look it up. Also, it seems we have seen extreme sports become more prevalent in the last 10 to 20 years. Could that have anything to do with a more dysfunction in the family? Just thinking out loud.
Pardon me if my dates are off on this, but I first knew about Krakauer from Into Thin Air, which was (I believe) published a couple of years before Into the Wild.
No pardon necessary, but the dates are off. Krakauer's original article in _Outside_ was January of 1993. The book _Into the Wild_ was published in January 1996. _Into Thin Air_ was April of 1997.
I appreciated your compassionate thoughts, though, and I wanted to say that I haven't by any means ruled out the possibility that McCandless was mentally ill. I just don't want to jump to conclusions. In particular, I would regret people pinning a label on him that precludes us from engaging with the full and messy complexity of his real life.
In a way, the book isn't even about Chris McCandless. I think what makes it an outstanding story is Krakauer's frank account of his own ghosts and passions, as well as his profound empathy with a young man he never met.
I'm not sure how mental health issues neccessarily changes the story any more than what his physical abilities and disabilities might have been. Perhaps I'm wrong, but we are all somewhat crazy just as we are all somewhat adventurous, both to varying degrees. I am sure there might be some hard lines that can be drawn here and there but there are also many shades of grey, and it is all so complexly mixed and multidimensional that even professionals have difficulty understanding and diagnosing and treating such matters, though I'm sure they do their best, and in many cases they do very well.
I'm not exactly sure what I'm getting at. I guess what I'm saying is whether or not someone like Vincent Can Gough or Ernest Hemmingway or Jon Krakauer or Chris McCandless might be a little crazy or totally insane doesn't change the art. It might change our understanding, but it doesn't change, or diminish, the art. Also, I don't see the significance of him lacking any intention to return to society, other than making it a more compelling adventure. I don't see that as an indication of being any more or any less sane. Our society is pretty crazy after all. Moses had no intention of returning either.
"As long as you weren't doing the bidding of the voices in your head... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />"
Hey, I have my most fun when I do what the voices in my head tell me. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
From your avatar you've still got that crazy look in your eyes too. Kind of crazy that would make me feel quite comfortable sharing a trail though, and hearing lots more about what those voices in your head have been telling you. I haven't seen all that you have seen but who knows, maybe your voices and my voices might know some of the same people. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />
Frankly, dismissing the adventures of people on the AT and PCT and such places on account of being more than just a little crazy would be rather like handing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500.
I did a lot of competitive sailing when I was younger, at the national level and at the international level. I was never amongst the very best, but I new the very best and got to the point where I could see the very best, up close where it mattered, on the race course as well as off. Frankly, we were all a little crazy at that level, and the very best were perhaps the craziest. I never new Paul Elvstrom, but from what I've heard that man was totally insane. Most survived those issues during and subsequent to their adventure years. Some did not, including one of my dear friends. But I would never discount their abilities or achievements because of any mental illness on their part, whether real or perceived. This one was given at my friend's eulogy, after he jumped from that bridge when perhaps he should have just kept sailing, despite those telling him to stop and move on with life.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking, And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
Mns your post poignantly point out the fralities of the human Spirit and the places it can take someone. BeaarPaw and I have similiar histories and wanderings so to me he seems normal <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif" alt="" />
Jak, you and I might have crossed circles in my younger days as I did quite a bit of extensive sailing myself. Mostly in New England, Newport RI and the like, but also out of DownEast ME. I started out small and made my way up through the 12 meters, at one point helming the good ship, 'Intrepid', before I called it quits in the racing circles. I match raced DC a few times and even got the best of him once, and a fair number of starts on him too, but alas, it was'nt 'my show'.
It ended with me searching the North Atlantic for a friend, and mentor of mine, named Mike whose boat I helped rig for the 'Around the World Challenge'. After much searching we found the vessel but never recovered his body. RIP Mike, Fair Seas to Thee <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif" alt="" />
PEPPER SPRAY AIN'T BRAINS IN A CAN!
IMHO there really is very little of interest to backpackers or armchair adventurers in what really is a story about apparent mental illness. I suspect that the acclaimed and well known adventure author has more to do with why so many people have read this book than the subject himself. One wonders if Joe Schmoe had written the book whether it would have even gotten off the editors desk.
One, what do we know about the interests of backpackers/adventurers? Can their interests be known, guessed, or summarily proscribed? Clearly there is enough interest in the book to make it a best seller (NY Times).
Two, pinning Chris M.'s behavior on mental illness is quite an unfounded assumption. He was different, a non-conformist, and in many ways a rebel. He was young, unpredictable, and perhaps eccentric, but saying he was mentally ill is going too far as you yourself admit it in a later post when you say that he was undiagnosable at that age. I think we are too quick to label people as mentally ill. We should err on the side of tolerance.
Personality analysis using a Myers-Briggs profile reveals that many people are: 1. introverted (vs. extroverted) and focus their attention on the inner world of ideas and impressions 2. "feeling" and "make decisions based on values and subjective evaluation" (vs. "thinking" or relying on logic and objective analysis) 3. "perceiving", who prefer being flexible and spontaneous (vs. "judging" which is defined as preferring planned and organized approaches) 4. Intuitive, defined as taking information from patterns and possibilities (rather than focusing on the outer world, or "sensing")
Granted, I don't know how Chris M. would have scored on a personality profile. Also, one is free to argue that some personality traits may be counterproductive in risk-taking scenarios, but psychology can easily account for Chris M.'s behavior without unnecessarily (and without foundation) labeling him mentally ill. One could also account for his behavior by giving him the benefit of the doubt and, if you want to use a label, try "spiritual."
Three, you wonder if the book, if written by someone else, "would have gotten off the editors desk"... are you kidding me? This book is on many high school AP curricula and college curricula because, besides being well written, it deals with many of the same great themes that predominate much of American Literature: the importance of the individual (vs. society), the American relationship to nature as explored by Thoreau, Bret Harte, Twain, Emerson, William James (and many others), and the ongoing influence of American Romanticism and Transcendentalism. I see more than one doctoral thesis opportunity here... perhaps an analysis of Into The Wild as it relates to the history of "environmental" literature.
Of course, not everybody will like the book, but it can not be easily dismissed as fluff. There is surely enough meat on the bones of this story to make it part of a high protein diet for the mind.
Resurrecting this dead-soldier-of-a-thread, I just finished Into the Wild, after having been given it by a friend via mail last week. Have not seen the movie, but will wait for the rental DVD, soon to be out after Christmas, no doubt.
I, unlike mockturtle, found the diversion chapter(s) of Krakauer's own Devils Thumb escapade just that, diversive. Everyone has a reason for writing, and I found Krakauer's rather elaborate description of his youthful adventure as a sort of author's hijacking of another's biography to somehow relate or equate Chris's and his adventure and found it a bit too much. Krakauer could have summed up what he did on Devil's Thumb in 2 paragraphs in "Into the Wild," or turned it into 3 chapters in another book about himself.
But I was still thoroughly captivated by the book. For Krakauer to have gained access to the family to find out what dynamics were going within the McLandess's home certainly shows that Krakauer is a very decent person, or they surely would have told him to get lost.
Naivity and happenstance did poor Alex in. One person stumbling upon that bus in July or early August and they would no doubt be the recipient of a periodic Supertramp postcard and we would never have read the book.
Krakauer makes reference near the end to the "small stature" complex of Chris McLandess. And, of course, I think of one of my favorite persons of smaller stature, the other Chris -- Chris Townsend. Their differences are apparent. Chris T. knew what he is doing when he hiked the Canadian Rockies south to north, so instead of there being one book about the late him, we've got a library of books about his adventures written by him.
Despite my small criticism above, I love to read all that Jon Krakauer writes. I agree with mockturtle, JK is as interesting as the characters he writes about.